The Oak and the Fir Tree: A Christmas Legend

Boniface felling the Donar Oak. Ill.: Heinrich Maria von Hess (1834)

There are many stories of how the fir tree came to symbolize Christmas. Here is one of them:

Saint Boniface (675-754) was born in England, but traveled to what is today Germany to convert the local pagan tribes to Christianity. In 723 or 724, frustrated by the recent converts continued veneration of a giant oak, called Donar’s oak (or Thor’s oak), where they kept carrying out sacrifices, he took up his axe and felled the monstrous tree with one mighty blow. As the tree fell, a beautiful fir tree sprang from its center. 

This tree, Saint Boniface told the people, was a holy tree, the tree of the Christ Child, and its evergreen branches, pointing to heaven, symbolized the promise of eternal life. He then instructed the people to carry a fir tree from the wilderness into their homes at Christmas, surrounding it with gifts as symbols of love and kindness. Thus, the Christmas tree was born.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

2 comments on “The Oak and the Fir Tree: A Christmas Legend

  1. When I cut down an oak tree, the stump is more likely to get overgrown with poison oak.

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